Institutional change in intergovernmental organizations

Call for Papers

2nd  ULB-UGent WIRE (Workshop on International Relations)

Brussels, Belgium, May 27-28, 2011

  • Theme of the 2nd WIRE edition

Intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) face the challenge of adapting to their changing environment. Three structural developments stand out as particularly important: (1) the arrival of new great and middle powers on the world stage; (2) the re-conceptualization of old or intrusion of new issues on the global agenda; and (3) the rising institutional density and complexity in global governance due to the proliferation of traditional IGOs, new types of actors and innovative modes of governance.

In spite of the similarity of these challenges, the responses of IGOs have varied widely. Some IGOs have shown great resilience and have resisted pressures for reform, while others have seen small or major modifications to their mandates and institutional design. Some IGOs have become more effective over time, experiencing very steep learning curves, whereas others have traversed inverse trajectories towards greater decay and marginalization. Some IGOs have changed incrementally and in path-dependent ways. Others have evolved according to a punctuated equilibrium pattern.

There is also a wide diversity in how scholars have interpreted processes of institutional change. Most commonly, it is assumed that the member states, especially the most powerful ones, drive or block the reform process. However, it has also been argued that IGO bureaucracies can be agents in their own change. Still others emphasize that historic choices lead IGOs down a certain institutional path to the point where their structures become locked-in. Not much is known either about how exogenous and endogenous factors interact to produce change. In short, there is an urgent need for greater clarity in the concepts and explanations of IGO change and inertia.

Responding to these research needs, this workshop invites papers that examine processes of institutional change in or across IGOs (that is, in either single or large-n case studies). Which combination of endogenous and exogenous factors can account for different dimensions of institutional change in particular IGOs? To what extent is institutional sclerosis an ubiquitous feature of IGOs? How do reform pressures and responses impact on an organization’s effectiveness and legitimacy? Can we observe interaction or spill-over effects in adaptation processes from one IGO to another? Does the embeddedness of an IGO in a regime complex influence its institutional development? We are looking for empirical or theoretical contributions that deal with these and related matters.

  • WIRE unique format

The ULB/UGent Workshops on International Relations (WIRE) have a unique format: the number of participants is strictly limited, full papers are distributed long before the event, and authors speak only at the closure of discussions. More specifically, the 15-20 participants receive eight selected papers one month prior to the event, as the format necessitates reading them beforehand. At the workshop, a discussant kicks off each session by briefly introducing a paper. Then, the group discusses it for approximately one hour, providing an opportunity for an extensive and in-depth discussion involving every participant. The last few words of each session are given to the author for a short response to comments and criticisms. We are proud to announce the participation of Randall Stone, who will deliver a keynote speech to kick-off the workshop and participate throughout the event. The ULB/UGent WIRE series are an opportunity for scholars to receive detailed feedback on ongoing research projects and to get acquainted in an informal setting.

Submission before January 2nd, 2011

To submit a proposal, send a one-page summary, a biographical notice, and full contact information by email to before January 2, 2011. Authors will be informed by the ULB/UGent WIRE selection committee of its decision by January 12th 2011. Selected candidates are expected to send a complete version of their papers (between 8.000 and 12.000 words) by April 5, 2011 at the latest. Authors who fail to send their paper on time will be removed from the program.

  • Financial assistance

We will cover meals and accommodation during the workshop for authors and discussants. Upon request, we might also be able to provide financial assistance for travel costs. There is no registration fee.

  • Scientific committee

Amandine Bled Orsini (Université libre de Bruxelles)

Dries Lesage (Ghent University)

Jean-Frédéric Morin (Université libre de Bruxelles)

Randall W. Stone (University of Rochester)

Thijs van de Graaf (Ghent University)